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Sunni-ledere i Irak som inntil for ganske nylig krevde umiddelbar amerikansk tilbaktrekning, ber nå amerikanerne om å bli, og gjerne sende flere soldater. Grunnen er sunnienes underlegenhet. De frykter hva shia-militsene ville finne på hvis amerikanerne forsvinner.

Det som i realiteten er en shia-sunni borgerkrig har allerede ført til store endringer. Mens sunni-ledere ber USA om å bli, reagerer shia-representanter med sinne.

The Sunni Arab leaders say they have no newfound love for the Americans. Many say they still sympathize with the insurgency and despise the Bush administration and the fact that the invasion has helped strengthen the power of neighboring Iran, which backs the ruling Shiite parties.

But the Sunni leaders have dropped demands for a quick withdrawal of American troops. Many now ask for little more than a timetable. A few Sunni leaders even say they want more American soldiers on the ground to help contain the widening chaos.

The new stance is one of the most significant shifts in attitude since the war began. It could influence White House plans for a reduction of the 134,000 troops here and help the Americans expand dialogue with elements of the insurgency. But the budding accommodation is already stirring a reaction among the Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the population but were brutally ruled for decades by the Sunnis.

I flere områder av Bagdad og områder rundt om i landet, er det åpen skuddveksling mellom sunnier og shiaer. Sunniene stoler heller ikke på hæren og innenrikspolitiet. sunniene forlanger at det skal være med amerikanske soldater når hær eller politi rykker inn i et sunni-område.

In Adhamiya, a neighborhood in north Baghdad, Sunni insurgents once fought street to street with American troops. Now, mortars fired by Shiite militias rain down several times a week, and armed watch groups have set up barricades to stop drive-by attacks by black-clad Shiite fighters. So when an American convoy rolled in recently, a remarkable message rang out from the loudspeakers of the Abu Hanifa Mosque, where Saddam Hussein made his last public appearance before the fall of Baghdad in 2003.

«The American Army is coming with the Iraqi Army — do not shoot,» the voice said, echoing through streets still filled with supporters of Mr. Hussein. «They are here to help you.»

Sheik Abdul Wahab al-Adhami, an imam at the mosque, said later in an interview: «Look at what the militias are doing even while we have the American forces here. Imagine what would happen if they left.»

Shia-militsens vold har nådd et nivå som gjør at de siste eksemplene på amerikanske overgrep, som nedskytingen av 24 mennesker i Haditha, og voldtekten av en jente og drapet på hennes familie i Mahmudiya, ikke vekker de samme reaksjoner som Abu Ghraib gjorde i 2004.

«The problem is that American crimes are only a hundredth of the crimes committed by the militias,» said Omar al-Jubouri, the human rights officer for the Iraqi Islamic Party, a powerful Sunni group that still considers itself the vanguard of political resistance to the Americans. «It’s like one hair compared to all the other hairs on a camel.»

«We want to tell the American people to increase the presence of the Americans here, to control the situation,» he added.

Sunnienes problem er at amerikanerne ikke går etter shia-milits sånn uten videre. De må ha en grunn. Den verste av dem er Mahdi-militsen til Mloqtadah al-Sadr. De er de mest brutale og hensynsløse, til tross for hva Muqtadah måtte si offentlig.

Den 7. juli foretok amerikanerne et raid mot Mahdi-hæren, og 30-40 av deres soldater ble drept eller såret. En kjent kommandant ble tatt til fange. Det likte sunniene.

Men det koster amerikanerne popularitet. Det kan den amerikanske ambassadøren, Zalmay Khalilzad, fortelle:

«The problem is that American crimes are only a hundredth of the crimes committed by the militias,» said Omar al-Jubouri, the human rights officer for the Iraqi Islamic Party, a powerful Sunni group that still considers itself the vanguard of political resistance to the Americans. «It’s like one hair compared to all the other hairs on a camel.»

«We want to tell the American people to increase the presence of the Americans here, to control the situation,» he added.

In an About-Face, Sunnis Want U.S. to Remain in Iraq